Fun Things to Do on a Vacation Visit to Rockland, Maine

 Posted by on August 29, 2013  Comments Off
Aug 292013

Rockland, Maine is a delightful vacation destination on Maine’s mid-coast that is the process of being transformed from a fishing and shipbuilding hub to a family friendly tourist hot spot.  Just a block away from the waterfront, warehouses and commercial buildings are being turned into boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.  The highly regarded Farnsworth Art Museum occupies several buildings in the downtown.  The Museum features American art and is home to the one of the country’s  largest collections of the paintings of the Wyeth family.  Daily ferries run to Vinalhaven and to North Haven from the Maine State Ferry Terminal located on the Rockland waterfront.

Grey seals and lobster boats are common sights in Rockland Harbor

Grey seals and lobster boats are common sights in Rockland Harbor

We were in town to take a windjammer cruise aboard the Schooner Isaac Evans, but arrived a day early to check out the scene.  We were delighted by the quality of accommodations, food and things to do.  The high point of our land-based explorations was taking a walk on the 8/10th of a mile long Rockland Harbor Breakwater that connects the mainland and Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light.

The Rockland Breakwater extends 4,300 feet into the harbor

The Rockland Breakwater extends 4,300 feet into the harbor

The Rockland Breakwater was built with over 700,000 tons of granite at a cost of $750,000 and took 18 years to complete between 1881-1899.  It was built because  several nor’easter storms in the 1850s caused a great deal  of damage to the inner parts of Rockland Harbor and the city needed to offer a more sheltered environment to encourage growth of its fishing and shipping businesses.  The breakwater is made of enormous granite blocks that were cut precisely to fit and were placed end-to-end in water up to 70 feet deep. Depending on the tide and weather the waves may be washing over the breakwater, or lapping placidly at the sides 20 feet below the top.

Watch your step when hiking the Rockland Breakwater

Watch your step when hiking the Rockland Breakwater

It took us about 25 minutes each way as the gaps between the granite blocks are wide enough that it is wise to pay attention where you are walking to avoid tripping.  For kids, tweens and teens it offers a fun activity and a good way to burn off some energy.  If they go faster than mom and dad they can chill on the rocks that surround the lighthouse before heading back.  We are told it is also a good place to fish although we didn’t see anyone catch anything the day we were there.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

We stayed one night at the Ledges by the Bay motel, which is located in the town of Rockport just over the border from Rockland — about a 5 minute drive to downtown.  It was clean and our oceanfront facing room had a lovely view.  Each room has a fridge and the motel offers a free continental breakfast.   Upscale travelers and golfers might enjoy the Samoset Resort in Rockland, the expansive grounds looked very inviting.  We also had time to enjoy a couple of meals in town.  We particularly enjoyed the Fog Bar and Café for dinner.  It offers very creative and tasty American cuisine.   For breakfast don’t miss the Home Kitchen Café .  The ice cream and gelato at Lulu’s are amazing.

Don't miss the ice cream and gelato's at Lulu's in Rockland, Maine

Don’t miss the ice cream and gelato’s at Lulu’s in Rockland, Maine

Rockland and nearby Owls Head were fun stops on our mid-coast tour, we could definitely have stayed longer.  We paid our own way and none of the businesses list above knew they would get mentioned here.  If you visit let us know what you think.

New York City Restaurant Ideas for Teens and Tweens Via BFTA

 Posted by on September 26, 2010  Comments Off
Sep 262010

     Mary T has been answering questions over at the Best Family Travel Advice site for a few weeks now.  It is really fun to share our experiences and help readers get started planning fabulous family vacations.  Look for our suggestions about things to do at Yellowstone and near Mount Rushmore.

     Of course, we’ve been reading the advice provided by other family travel experts on the site as well.   We were particularly excited to see the New York City restaurant recommendations provided by Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby and Carol Cain of NYCity Mama.  Together they provide a list of about a dozen spots that cater to families and look like good bets for ravenous teens and tweens visiting the Big Apple.

The view from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building

     Carol’s list included some rather unusual pizza options including chocolate pizza at Max Brenner in Union Square and Cajun pizza at Two Boots Pizza.  Debbie has some good ideas for a bit more  upscale restaurants that won’t disappoint  including world class french fries at  Balthazar in SOHO and a special gourmet experience at L’atelier De Joel Robuchon at the Four Seasons on East 57th Street.

     We had such a great time on our mom and teen girl’s getaway to New York City last spring that we are already thinking of a repeat visit.  Looks like we won’t go hungry thanks to the ladies of BFTA.  If you are planning a family vacation with kids of any age be sure to stop by to search the archives and to ask your own travel questions

NJ’s Americana Diner: A Classic

 Posted by on September 15, 2010  Comments Off
Sep 152010

     According to the American Diner Museum web site, the word “diner” is a derivative of “dining car” and diner designs originally reflected the styling that manufacturers borrowed from railroad dining cars.   The first diners were simple prefab affairs with  a counter, stools and a cooking area along the back wall. 

The Americana Diner, Shrewsbury NJ - a classic!

     Of course over a number of decades, diners got bigger, tables and booths were added and the decor got a whole lot flashier with stainless steel, neon and chrome being featured prominently.   We are always on the lookout for particularly good examples of classic diners and found one in the Americana on Route 35 in Shrewsbury, NJ, just a few miles from the beach and near an upscale mall.  We stopped in for lunch (and paid our own tab).  The teens thought the burgers, fries and deli sandwiches were tasty.  The menu is enormous so even the pickiest eater will be happy.  The diner is open from early morning to late night  7 days a week.  If you are in the area check it out and let us know what you think.

Jackson, NH Eagle Mountain House: Dinner with a View

 Posted by on June 30, 2010  Comments Off
Jun 302010


Jackson NH, Eagle Mountain House in summer , courtesy Eagle Mountain House

     Visiting the Mount Washington Valley, NH with teens and tweens often involves a lot of climbing, hiking, and general racing around.  After a day of ziplines, gondolas, alpine slides, bungee trampolines, climbing walls and hiking both parents and teen appreciated the opportunity to slow down and savour the historic charms of the almost century-old  93-room Eagle Mountain House grand hotel in Jackson, NH.

   Located halfway between bustling North Conway and Mount Washington, the town of Jackson hearkens back to a more elegant era of grand hotels, golf courses and scenic views.  It is easy to drive past Jackson on your way up and down busy Route 16, but whether you are stopping to visit the lovely Jackson Falls, grab lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants, cross country ski, play golf, or stay for a week at a classic inn or hotel, it is worth making the turn off the highway, driving under the red covered bridge and experiencing the mountains the way visitors did 100 years ago.

Casual charm at the Eagle Mountain House dining room, courtesy Eagle Mountain House

     As is typical, we arrived late and a little out of breath for our dinner at the Eagle Mountain House Highfields Tavern.  The hostess and staff quickly put us at ease, whisking us to a table and serving up our drink orders.  We were impressed with the menu which includes a range of  burgers, salads, fish and chips and typical pub fare as well as lobster rolls, steaks and a yummy dessert menu.  The dining room is casually elegant with white table clothes but guests welcome in any type of reasonable vacation attire including shorts and jeans.

     The servings are generous.  Our teen devoured a very large serving of fish and chips while the adults enjoyed Farm House Meatloaf that Camera Guy describes as “to die for” and Mary T had a hearty steak topped with fried onions.   The Shirley Temples were also teen approved and the enormous piece of chocolate cake served up for dessert didn’t last long either.

End your meal with a drink on the veranda, courtesy the Eagle Mountain House

     After dinner, the adults took dessert drinks from the well stocked bar out to the rocking chairs on the beautiful 280-foot wraparound veranda that offers stunning views of the hotel’s 9-hole golf course and surrounding mountains.  Meanwhile, the teen explored the public areas of the hotel from top to bottom, coming back to beg spare change for the game room machines.  We loved the historic lobby which still sports the original room phone cable switchboard and wooden mail slots for seasonal guests. 

     As we gathered up our jackets and got ready to head back to our hotel in North Conway we decided we had to come back to this special spot again.

     We were invited for a complimentary dinner at the Eagle Mountain House Highfields Tavern as part of our whirlwind weekend with teens arranged by the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. We paid for our own drinks and gratuities.   Our accepting dinner in no way obligated us to provide a positive review.   All opinions in this article are totally our own.   For links to more information about our visit to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley, check out our Mount Washington Valley Top 10 – Summer Edition article.
Jackson Family Vacation

Jun 292010


Festive Cafe Noche in Conway, NH

     If you are visiting the Mount Washington Valley, NH and looking for a restaurant that can satisfy the teens, tweens and adults in your group, check out the Mexican experience at Cafe Noche on Main Street in Conway, NH.  Locally owned and operated Cafe Noche offers up great food, drinks and service in a  fun, festive setting that we all enjoyed. 

     Walking in the door, the creative, colorful, wall to wall displays of mexican artwork, photos, collectibles and trinkets immediately gets your attention.  Virtually every inch of wall space, as well as windows, shelves and sideboards are filled.   The same attention to detail that owner Thomas Kugel has put into the decor has also been devoted to stocking the bar and creating the menu.

     For adults, there are dozens of tequila and margarita options to taste as well as a solid assortment of mexican and locally brewed beers.  We enjoyed the House Margarita made with Sauza Gold tequila, triple sec and lime and a glass of locally brewed Tuckerman’s Headwall beer.  Our teen declared the Shirley Temples to be pretty good too!

Enjoy the ambience at Cafe Noche

     The menu carries many Tex-Mex staples including  serveral types of nachos and potato skins as well as Jalapeno Poppers for appetizers.  Chips and salsa are brought as soon as you sit down.  The dinner menu includes beef, chicken, veggie, pork and seafood choices for enchiladas, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, and fajitas served a la carte or as platters.  The food was well seasoned without being overwhelming and was freshly prepared and served hot.  The servings are generous, even filling our active teen.  We wish we had saved room for the signature dessert – fried ice cream.

     We arrived around 6 pm on Friday night and the moderate size restaurant filled as we were eating.  Located in a converted house, Cafe Noche has several small dining rooms which make for an intimate setting and help to avoid a sense of crowding.   The ambience and pace of service were perfect for families with teens and tweens.  We had enough time to enjoy our drinks and talk about our day without feeling rushed.   Younger kids might get restless.

Art takes over the windows as well as the walls at Cafe Noche

     Cafe Noche and downtown Conway are a few minutes drive south of the main North Conway shopping strip.  We appreciated the chance to get away from the chains and the traffic while we enjoyed Mount Washington Valley’s little piece of Mexico.

     Our complimentary meal at Cafe Noche was arranged by the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce.  We paid for our own drinks and gratuities.   Our accepting dinner in no way obligated us to provide a positive review.   All opinions in this article are totally our own.   For links to more information about our visit to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley, check out our Mount Washington Valley Top 10 – Summer Edition article.
North Conway Family Vacation

Mt. Washington Valley, NH Top 10 – Summer Edition

 Posted by on June 27, 2010  Comments Off
Jun 272010


Welcome to the Mount Washington Valley

We want to again thank the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce  (1-800-DO-SEE-NH) for arranging a jam packed weekend of teen oriented activities for us to review from June 25-27, 2010.  

     We have always thought of the Mount Washington Valley as a place to take small kids, but this trip convinced us there is plenty there to keep teens, tweens and their parents happy as well.    Over the course of a three-day weekend we felt we just scratched the surface of what the Valley has to offer.   You can read all about it by clicking the red links, each goes to a full article about a different piece of our adventure:

  • The accommodations and breakfasts at the Merrill Farm Resort in North Conway. Located on the banks of the Saco River the Resort offers great access to restaurants and shopping in North Conway as well as the Valley’s many natural and manmade attractions.
  • Monkey Trunks  Zip Line and High Ropes Adventure Park in Chocorua, NH which proved to be our teen’s out and out, can’t miss favorite attraction!
  • The Mount Washington Valley Auto Road to the top of 6,288 foot Mount Washington.  We took the Stage van so we could enjoy the views around every hairpin turn.
  • Great, teen friendly Mexican food at Cafe Noche in Conway, NH.
  • A relaxing dinner and nightcap at the the classic  Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, NH. 
  • The terrific views from the  Wildcat Mountain ZipRider and Gondola Express
  • Attitash Mountain’s summer attractions including the Alpine Slide, mountain biking, waterslides, a climbing wall and a EuroBungy Trampoline
  • Hiking in the White Mountains in search of a waterfall
  • Tax-free shopping on the North Conway outlet strip and in eclectic downtown main street stores.
  • A all the great activities we couldn’t fit into the weekend but want to go back to try out    

     There is definitely enough to do in the Mount Washington Valley to easily fill a full week vacation.  If you expect to stay that long, or visit several times in a season, the White Mountains Attractions Value Pass can be well worth the $299 per person.  The pass provides one-time access to 16 major area attractions including the Mount Washington Auto Road, the Mount Washington Cog Railway, the Attitash Summer Programs, Wildcat Mountain Gondola, the Flume Gorge and many others.  The list price of all the attractions combined is $695 so it can be worth considering.

Thanks to the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

     We also advise taking the time to visit the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce Vacation Specials and Last Minute Deals pages.  Check in with your hotel as well as many packages are available that can significantly reduce the standard rack rate prices.

May 022010

     The Upper East Side of Manhattan parallels the eastern side Central Park from 59th Street to 96th Street, stretching to meet the East River.  We spent the first afternoon of our mom and teen girls’ getaway exploring Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art before heading to Serendipity 3 for dinner.

Central Park is lovely on a Spring Day

Central Park is lovely on a Spring Day

     We entered Central Park at 6th Avenue and Central Park Drive which took us past the Statue of Cuban Patriot Jose Julian Marti.  We followed winding, flowering trails along the Pond, finding boulders to scramble along the way.  We walked through the  Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop and continued along the shaded walks of the Dene and the meadow of the East Green

Central Park has some awesome boulders

Teens enjoy a quick rock scramble in Central Park

     Our walk took about an hour, including a brief stop to enjoy the remote controlled sailboats on the Conservatory Water.  We remembered the sailboat racing scenes from E.B. White’s Stuart Little.  If we had more time we might have rented one of our own to try it out.  We exited the Park at 79th Street to find ourselves at the Met.

Sail a radio powered boat on the Conservatory Water in Central Park

Sail a radio powered boat on the Conservatory Water in Central Park

     This area is rightly known as Museum Mile as it hosts at least a dozen museums.  The largest is the Met, but other well known sites include the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Frick Collection.  Just a few blocks south are several more important museums including the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)  on 53rd Street.  Although our teens have visited many museums in New England, they were not prepared for the size and scale of the Met.  In two hours we barely skimmed the surface of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Modern and European Masters exhibits. 

     The girls were particularly interested in the Met’s vast Egyptian holdings which are set up in chronological order from the oldest kingdoms though to Roman times.   It was great to hear the girls discuss the different periods of history among themselves — sounds like they have been paying attention in social studies class!  

The Temple of Dendur at the Met

The Temple of Dendur at the Met

     After our walk through the Park and two hours touring the Museum, the girls were starting to drag but we had one more vital stop — the legendary Serendipty 3, home of the famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate!    After a brief water break on the steps of the Met, we headed over to East 60th Street, chatting with street vendors and checking out the brownstones along the way.  We had made reservations so were seated immediately, and our famished teens feasted on burgers and frozen treats!

The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3 hits the spot after our walking tour of the East Side

The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3 hits the spot after our walking tour of the East Side

      Exhausted but so excited to really be in New York City, we took a cab back to the hotel and started planning for the next day’s adventure to the Empire State Building and shopping in Soho.

     This is part of a series about our mom and teen girls’ getaway to New York City.  You can visit our Teens Take New York City summary page to discover our full itinerary and find links to other NYC posts and trip planning tips.

New York City Family Vacation